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Why you need to read the instructions during your job search–and follow them.

Pop quiz, job seekers!

I schedule phone interviews with candidates by email. I have a very specific template I use, example below:

Thanks for applying for the <job title> position with <company>. I’d like to schedule a phone interview with you Tuesday February 26 between 11:30am – 1:00pm Eastern time. Please let me know if you have 30 minutes available during that time and at what phone number I can reach you. Thanks, and I look forward to speaking with you!

If you received this email, what information would you include in your reply?

A resume submittal, a job application, or a request for information are the job seekers first opportunities to demonstrate how they complete an assignment for the employer. Too frequently job seekers focus on the quantity, not quality, of job applications and hence do not read for critical details. And  that can adversely impact the impression they make on a recruiter or hiring manager.

The above example is a great case in point. I sent the email above 4 times yesterday. 50% of the respondents replied with a specific availability time–but not with the phone number. Not following this one simple request for information above needlessly drags out the scheduling process, but more than that it demonstrates that you didn’t read for detail. That’s not the first impression you want to make.

Another example: Although my current employer is based in Seattle, we have other locations in the US and Canada. Recently I was sourcing for a position based in our DC metro area office. About 20% of the applications I received were from candidates based in the Seattle area. Concerned that there was an issue with the posting, I audited all of the websites to which the position had been scraped (Indeed, NWJobs, etc). None of those sites showed the position located in Seattle; all stated it was for our DC metro area office. Curious, I reached out to a couple of people to ensure they knew it was in the DC area; both replied, “Oh, I saw RealNetworks and just applied assuming it was in Seattle.”

Take the time to read things carefully–and respond appropriately. It’s as much a part of the hiring process as the interviews.

“So what do you know about our company?”

You are almost guaranteed to be asked the above question one or more times during an interview process. And nearly every interview preparation guide advises to research the company. So everyone should have a great answer. Right? Then you might imagine my consistent disappointment at how poorly most candidates answer this question when I ask it in an initial phone screen.

The answer I most frequently receive: “Well, I’ve used your software, and I know you’re based in Seattle. . .” and that’s it.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: The interview is the final exam of your job search–but in almost all cases the only two grades given are A or F. I recommend preparing accordingly.

How? There are a lot of potential information sources:

  • The Company Website(I’m using my friends at Oracle for this example): This can provide information on the company’s history, mission, strategy, products, locations, and be sure to check out the massive amount of information about the Execs and Board of Directors, information on their Press and Social Media channels, about their Corporate Citizenship…it’s a vast ocean of knowledge. You could  (and should) spend a LOT of time on just this site alone.
  • Google and Google News: Google allows you to search for information about the company, while Google News aggregates any news articles about the company. I highly recommend setting up Google Alerts for all companies you are targeting, and set it to send you daily digests.
  • LinkedIn: Review the Company page on LinkedIn for basic company information, recent updates by the company and its employees, an overview of key products/services, and–whatever you do–ensure you Follow the company–because good recruiters look to see if you are. Look through your contacts: Do you have any either 1st or 2nd level connections that list your target company as a current or past employer? It is worth reaching out to gain their insight on the company (and who knows, maybe they know the hiring manager). I also highly recommend learning what you can about the recruiter who contacted you and–if possible–each member of the interview team. (It gives you an opportunity to understand their background and gives you a way to potentially build rapport through a shared prior employer/alma mater.)
  • Yahoo! Finance: Especially useful for Public companies. Provides a snapshot of market performance and financials. Also links to recent news stories.
  • Twitter: Follow the company on Twitter, and search for the company being mentioned. What are people saying about it?
  • Facebook: Same thing–like the company page and ‘passively listen’ to what people are commenting about. Are they happy with the products or services?
  • Glassdoor: Glassdoor is a crowdsourced company information and review site. Current/prior employees may volunteer salary information for various job titles–useful in potential offer negotiation. Additionally, current/prior employees can provide company ratings/reviews. I highly recommend applying a critical thinking filter to these as you might a product/service review on Yelp. Many of the people that post to Glassdoor are those that have left the company on poor terms–for instance through a RIF or due to what they perceive as a poor work/management situation.  Consider the feedback–then make up your own mind.
  • Hoovers: Significant amounts of information available here–for a fee.
  • Main/PandoDaily/GeekWire: Looking for a job at a startup or in tech? In Seattle or the Bay Area? Follow these three sites. Daily. Subscribe to them. Follow their leaders on Twitter.

That’s just a few resources of the multitude available to you. So what do you with with all of that information once you have it?

Well, first off–study it. Learn it–at least the basics. Understand the financials; they are key to the health of the company. Know who the key players and products are. Understand what’s going on with the company, and with their key competitors. This will help you not only be able to blow away the interviewer, but you should also be unlocking questions you’d like to have answered in the interview process about the company, product, leaders, financials, etc.

Again, I repeat: This is the final exam of your job search. Do you want an A? Or an F?

TGIF

Happy Friday, everyone. It’s going to be a wet and windy weekend here, thanks to a storm that has us under a Winter Weather Advisory. Glad I’m not out on a boat today; there are healthy whitecaps on the Sound. It’d be unpleasant.

What’s on tap for everyone this weekend? I’m modifying my prior plans to wash the car and work in the garden…

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Why feedback loops are important in job search

I touched on this subject earlier this week, but it bears revisiting and expanding a bit.

I’m an enthusiastic home cook. I don’t do it as much as I’d like, but I do enjoy spending an afternoon or evening messing around in the kitchen. One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that the feedback loop is a critical part of the learning and self-improvement process in cooking (as it is in anything we do). This was brought to mind as I made a dish last week, Coconut Fish Stew with Basil and Lemongrass. It was something I’d made before, but it’d been awhile. I pulled out my notes and reviewed–the feedback from those who ate it last time was that the lemongrass was chopped too finely (per the recipe) making it tough to eat, and that could have used more vegetables.  I took that feedback and used it in making the dish. As I went, I also recalled that I didn’t like how I had cut up the fish last time, and that I wanted more variety of seafood so I added large prawns. I also added white mushrooms and an orange bell pepper along with a bit of Sriracha to give it a bit of heat. The finished product:

Stew

The verdict? Much better this time. But it could do with a different type of rice, perhaps…and it needed more fresh lime juice as it lacked acid.

Why do I share this? Because cooking, like job hunting, is an iterative process. You execute a process, collect feedback, and incorporate that feedback into the next iteration with the final goal of achieving a desired result. In my case, it’s perfecting macaroni and cheese or a killer grilled pizza dough. For you, the job seeker, it’s about executing the process (writing a resume, interviewing for a job); requesting feedback and incorporating that feedback into the next iteration; and continuing that process and feedback loop until success is achieved–you’re hired.

This process should never stop. It’s tough for our egos, but it’s important to always be asking for feedback. The moment we stop is the moment we stop growing–and achieving our goals, like getting that next great job.

Do you ask for feedback after interviews? Here’s why you should.

How many of you have interviewed for a new job in the past 5 years?

If you didn’t get the job, do you know why? What could you do to make yourself The Right Candidate?

I am always surprised at how few candidates actively request constructive feedback after an interview loop. I know it can be difficult to hear you didn’t get a job (or didn’t even get to the second round of interviews). It can be a blow to your aspirations, your hopes, your ego. And the prospect of then asking for why you weren’t selected–well, that can seem like insult on injury.

But you should always ask for feedback. It’s a feedback loop that is invaluable. Think of it as a gift someone is giving you for free that will help you become The Right Candidate. If you actively seek out feedback, really process it, and take action on improving your skills/experience/interview technique/etc–you will be able to leap high enough to grab that brass ring job the next time it appears.

Here’s a case in point: I recently received an email from a candidate I spoke with about a position nearly a year ago. At the time, we had discussed her resume and she’d asked for feedback as to where she might have a skills or experience gap. I provided her with feedback on what types of experience might make her a more qualified candidate for this type of role in the future. As a recruiter, it’s not uncommon to have these types of exchanges–and it’s extremely rare to hear from the candidate again beyond  “Thank you for the input”.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I received the following nearly a year later:

Hello Jon – I hope this email finds you doing well.  I just wanted to let you know I took to heart your suggestions and I have been supporting the executive team of a local non-profit for nearly a year.  You were correct, there are many complexities to supporting true C-level executives.  I now have the missing piece to compete for those positions of higher responsibility and challenge.”

(Note: I requested and received permission to use this email excerpt from the prior candidate.)

The email above exemplifies Doing It Right when it comes to constructive job search feedback.

  • She asked for feedback. Again, very few job seekers take advantage of this massively important opportunity.
  • She thought about that feedback, and took action. Instead of dismissing it, she chose to seek out a new career opportunity that gave her the opportunity to gain the missing experience (supporting C-level executives in an Exec Admin role).
  • She followed up. It’s even more rare that a former job seeker will do this. It demonstrates their continued interest in both development of themselves professionally and of us as a potential future employer.

Guess who I’ll remember the next time I have an EA search open up?

February 2013
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